Real Life

I finished my plumbing apprenticeship four days after giving birth to my second child

Beth Pike (28), of Auckland, is not your average plumber.

Looking back, it probably wasn’t the easiest time to become a qualified plumber. I finished my apprenticeship four days after giving birth to my second child Oscar!

I was 23 and a stay-at-home mother with a three-year-old daughter, Charlotte (who’s now eight), when I decided I was ready to return to the workforce. I’d had an admin and numbers kind of background – I worked in finance for an accountant, but I didn’t want to go back to working in an office. It just wasn’t me.

What I really love is hard work, being outside, thinking outside the square and working with my hands. I have always been really practical.

Everyone said I should be a plumber, which I guess was always going to happen.

My fiancé has been a plumber for 20 years, my brother-in-law is a plumber and my other two brothers are drainlayers – it’s all around me! I wasn’t new to the scene. In fact, I even had some experience, sort of!

My childhood was spent helping family friends on work sites and Dad is a big DIYer. I’d spend my school holidays siliconing pipes for an uncle to make some money. It was a fantastic way to learn and earn.

With a little one, it was always going to be tricky to go to university and incur debt.

I did initially find plumbing tough on the body. You can go to the gym every day and still not be work fit. What we do requires a different kind of fitness – long and sustained, you can use a shovel all day long.

I love the variety of this work. You could be working in five different places in one day.

Working in people’s homes, you meet so many amazing, different characters – and I have to admit, I love looking in people’s houses and bathrooms. I look at tapware like most women probably look at shoes!

There’s a fair amount of science that goes into it, though. You’ve got items such as hot water cylinders, which have all manner of safety valves, and you have to know how each and every one works. Then there’s the water hydraulics!

My employers are amazing because they take employee safety really seriously, so I’m not allowed to work until I’ve had all of my vaccinations. I’ve completed height courses and confined space courses.

Why aren’t there too many women in plumbing? Well, I think it’s just old-school thinking. It’s not a question of whether a woman can do it or not, it’s a question of whether an individual can do it or not.

Actually, I think being a woman can be an advantage in this job, especially when it comes to the ‘guts’! You just chuck on some gloves and think of it as a job that just needs doing, and it’s all good.

I’ll never forget, on my second day, we arrived at a house that had a waste blockage – which is a bit of a grubby job. We had to go underneath the house to check the pipes and it was raining. There was the tiniest amount of room to get under the deck and it was all muddy. But it was fine!

In fact, the worst part for me is going to somebody’s house and it’s grubby – you know, dishes on the bench and toilets that have never been cleaned. That bothers me a lot more than dealing with sewage – that’s just a mechanical failure. When people don’t clean up after themselves, that kind of mess annoys me.

Actually, the customers get more embarrassed talking to us. This one lady was so embarrassed when I worked on a blockage at her house and I just assured her it was my job, and it was no trouble at all.

It’s good to have a laugh and it’s just work. There are yucky parts to every job!”

My favourite way to unwind… To put my feet up and have a glass of red wine with my darling fiancé or a weekend fishing together on our boat.

Best piece of advice I’ve been given… Dreams don’t work unless you do.

My favourite meal is… Anything Japanese – I love it!

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